College students acted as tour guides for a baby Jesus statue that was stolen from a North Buffalo home last Christmas season, according to a regional news Web site.
The prank has received national attention since it was reported Tuesday in The Buffalo News.
The FingerLakes1.com Web site claims to have evidence that students from Hobart and William Smith Colleges, were "major players" in the stunt, in which the statue was taken to many locations around the state and photographed before being returned in August.
It is believed two women students, one from William Smith College, were involved in taking the statue of the infant Jesus from a manger scene outside a Depew Avenue home and keeping it for eight months.
"We've always suspected that it was swiped by students, because a lot of the pictures in the photo album showed the baby Jesus at college campuses . . . including Hobart-William Smith," said John Leising, who was the victim of the prank.
The statue was transported all over New York State, where it was photographed in unusual scenes and locations. In late August, the statue was secretly returned to the Depew Avenue home, along with a photo album showing the statue in all the different places where it had been taken.
On Thursday, FingerLakes1.com posted photos of two young women -- allegedly students from William Smith -- posing with the statue at five locations on the campus.
"We've heard that there was a buzz on campus when this statue was here on campus months ago," said Jim Sinicropi, general manager of the Web site. "We don't know if they were the only ones involved, but we certainly believe these two women in the pictures were major players."
Sinicropi said he obtained the photos from the Facebook.com Web pages created by the two students, but as of Thursday, the photos were no longer available on Facebook.com.
Sinicropi's story was headlined "Baby Jesus Tour Guides Are HWS Students."
John and Joan Leising, owners of the North Buffalo home where the statue was taken on Dec. 23, 2005, looked at the Finger Lakes Web site Thursday. They said they believe the statue in the pictures is theirs, and they said one of the two young women looks familiar.
The Leisings have been surprised and amused by the national buzz that developed after The News article, telling the story of the eight-month journey of their statue.
CNN ran a feature on the prank, and reporters have called from Los Angeles, Toronto, British Columbia, Arizona and elsewhere, the couple said.
"It's kind of taken over our lives," John Leising said. "We never expected this kind of reaction."
Joan Leising said she and her husband would love to talk with the people who took the statue, but they have no interest in pursuing any kind of criminal prosecution. She said she wonders if one or both of the students who were pictured on the Finger Lakes Web site are from Buffalo.
"We'd just like it if they contacted us and said, 'This is what we did and why we did it,' " she said. "We're just curious."
Hobart-William Smith is actually two colleges on one campus in Geneva. Hobart is for male students, William Smith for females.
Repeated efforts to reach spokespersons in the colleges' communications office were unsuccessful on Thursday. A secretary in the office said she was unaware if any Hobart-William Smith students had any connection to the prank.